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How To Land a Grad Software Engineer Job in Australia (as an International student)

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Why This Post, and How It’s Structured

Having worked in the Australian tech industry as a software engineer for a few years now, I can’t recount the number of times I’ve been asked the following question by friends and peers:

How’d you break into the Australia tech industry as an international student?

I’ve always had a lot of advice, thoughts and ruminations on the subject, so I decided to consolidate all of it into a single article. One article meant to give you all the tools, mental frameworks and strategies I wish I knew when I was a naive 18-year old international student hoping to plant my foot in Australian tech.

Although this post focuses on Australian tech graduates, you’ll see that the learnings and principles I share here are timeless and will work across countries, industries and even residential statuses.

This is a long post. It should be saved, revisited, and digested in pieces. So I’ve broken it up based on the important aspects. I’ll do my best to update it over time as I think of new topics to include or as my thoughts change.

Here’s everything I’m going to cover, feel free to jump around and make it a choose-your-own-adventure article: 

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ¦± My Story

Before we get into it, what makes me qualified to give you this advice?

Well, here’s a couple of reasons I think make a very compelling case:

  • I came to Australia as an international student
  • I landed a graduate software engineer role without a permanent residency
  • I’ve been an active member of the Australia tech workforce for 4+ years
  • I love giving advice (and think I’m not halfway bad at it)
  • I’m a straightshooter
  • I’m not a child prodigy
  • I didn’t start coding at 5 years old and don’t see lines of code in my dreams

In short, I’m someone very much like you who managed to make it through the graduate job gauntlet successfully. Many people helped me on my journey, so this is my way of paying my dues to the next set of ambitious students who make their way to Australia from all over the world.

Simple as that.

πŸ€“ How You Can Do It Too

Quit Victimhood

Have you ever caught yourself saying this to yourself?

“There’s not enough tech jobs in Australia.”

“Australian companies only hire students who have PR or citizenship. International students like me don’t stand a chance.”

“My GPA is not high enough.”

“She has connections in the industry, that’s how she made it… I don’t know anyone who can help me out.”

“Tech companies have a stupid interview process.”

All of the above are signs are tell-tale signs of a victim mentality – abdicating responsibility and feeling sorry for yourself. This is the way most people operate, and if you’re like most people, you’ll get the results most people get.

None of those beliefs up there may be true. But I don’t care, and neither should you. If holding a belief doesn’t serve your goals, why hold it?

Oftentimes the greatest changes only need a small shift in your thinking, and finding a job as a graduate is one of them. Let’s talk through some new beliefs that’ll serve you better.

Be Radically Honest With Yourself

You may lie, cheat and scam others to get ahead in life – I leave that decision up to your sense of morality. But one person who deserves the truth.

That’s you.

Stop trying to make yourself feel better by placing the onus of responsibility of failing to get a job onto someone or something other than yourself. All that does is make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term, you become a coward – taking shelter in your cocoon of victimhood when faced with life’s setbacks.

If you’ve been lazy and haven’t persevered enough, admit it. If you haven’t given this goal the attention it deserves, admit it. It hurts in the short term, but it creates room for change. Room to take action and to get the results you want.

But this only gets you halfway there – what matters most is what you do from this place of radical honesty.

Take 100% Responsiblity

You may apply to a hundred roles and get rejected every time. Companies may not even invite you to their interviews. Whatever the outcome might be, take 100% responsibility and ownership of it.

You might say – “What do you mean, Tanmay?! It’s not my fault that there’s a global pandemic which has ruined the job market!”

Well… It’s not your fault. But it is your responsibility. So is every other possible outcome, positive or negative.

This subtle shift in your mindset will change your life forever. Trust me.

For the first time in your life, instead of sitting passively in the passenger seat of your proverbial life car heading straight for a tree, you move into the driver seat. You might not be able to save yourself, but you have a much better chance. You’re in complete control.

There’s little traffic on the road of responsibility ( Source )

Adopting this mindset also means that your outcomes in the past were also your responsibility. You chose to be lazy, to be fearful and to be ignorant.

But who cares? That’s the past, and that isn’t in your control. All that matters is what you do from this point forward. Will you choose to surrender or will you choose to solve this problem once and for all?

The next time you get a rejection letter, instead of whining you’ll ask questions like:

“What do I need to do differently in my next application?”

“Who’s someone I can reach out to who can help me?”

“What skills can I pick up which will make me a better candidate?”

Think this way and you’ll land that job you covet. Maybe not on your next application, but much sooner than you’d think.

⚑ It’s a Numbers Game

If there’s only one thing you grasp from this post, let it be this – Getting a job is a numbers game. That’s it.

This applies to all jobs, even jobs in other industries. If you are a keen observer, you will see this pattern play out in several other domains of life such as sales, investing, entrepreneurship and even dating.

Sometimes the worst candidates are the first ones to get hired. Other times the best candidates are left unemployed for months on end. The reason for this is simple – there is no perfect way of assessing someone’s competence for a role before they have performed it.

So how do win at this numbers game? Let me give you some ideas which helped me.

Take Many Shots

The secret to beating any numbers game is the same – take many shots. To be more specific, take many shots and improve each attempt integrating learnings from the last.

Think about it this way – you have a 1% (completely arbitrary discouraging number) of landing a job based on your current qualifications, skill set and experience. Even if you don’t upskill in any way, all you need to do to get a job is to apply to 100 positions.

That’s it, problem solved. It might not be the most optimal way to solve the problem, but it does solve it.

If 99% of job seekers swallowed their pride and did this “machine-gun” approach, they’d make significant progress.

When in doubt, trust Michael Scott ( Source )

However, if you want to get to your goal faster, there’s a better approach.

Make multiple attempts, but use the learnings and feedback from the last to improve your likelihood of success as you keep going.

Here’s a fun way to gamify this:

  • Assign yourself a probability based on your current assessment of your abilities – say 5%.
  • You applied to 3 positions but did not get called for an interview. Ask yourself why that happened and what you could do to improve your odds.
    • Maybe tailor your resume to the job? Or change the template and style?
    • How about reaching out to the hiring manager or human resource coordinator on LinkedIn expressing your enthusiasm for the role after you’ve applied?
  • Let’s say you make these improvements in your process. What do you think your probability is now – maybe 15%?
    • Keep this process going and sooner or later you will stand out amongst the sea of candidates applying for roles you’re applying to.

It’s not an exact science, but why does this work so well? Because it forces you to get creative about continuous improvement and gives you the right mental model for success as a candidate early in his/her career.

You may not have many tangible skills to offer at this stage, but this approach will help you get your foot in the door.

Your Network Is Your Best Friend

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

– Some Wise Person

How many times have you heard the above saying? Well, it’s true. Humans are social creatures, and we routinely make decisions relying on emotions rather than logic. You make friends with people you like and make you feel great, but they may not be the logical best choices.

So is the case with a majority of hiring managers. A friend, acquaintance or co-worker vouching for your potential, reliability and skills garners a higher level of trust and credibility for them than any external hire. It’s for this reason, a majority of jobs never even get posted on job sites and are fulfilled internally through contacts and referrals.

Why travel the dirt road when there are fairer pastures to tread? Take full advantage of this:

  • If you studied in an Australian university, you’ve bound to have had at least some friends in your social circle doing the same degree as you – some older who may have graduated and are employed, some younger or your age who might be in the same boat as you.
    • Keep in touch with them regularly and ask them if they’ve got open roles in their companies, or if they know someone who’s got open roles in their company. You’ll be surprised how many people are happy to help and know what you’re going through as a graduate.
  • How about family? Maybe your parents or relatives know someone who knows someone who would help you out. Get creative and keep an open mind. When you are leveraging your network, sometimes the most unexpected connections can turn into dream jobs.

Try Alternative Avenues

After you’ve exhausted all the traditional methods of looking for jobs (where you’ll be competing with 99% of applicants) like:

  • LinkedIn
  • Your University’s Careers Site
  • Job sites – Seek, Indeed, Jora etc.

Don’t give up hope just yet – it’s time to try some alternative approaches:

  • Search for companies in your industry of interest, head on over to their careers or contact page and find an email address.
    • Reach out to them expressing your interest in working with them and mentioning your experience and skills – even if they don’t have any positions advertised.
    • Although most companies won’t reply, one of them might give you a chance. That’s all you need.
  • Find alternate job and work experience platforms in your area like AngelList and 2hats (Australian), setup your profile and apply to roles advertised there.
    • Chances are that most candidates won’t know about these platforms, giving you a competitve advantage.
    • AngelList for example caters mostly to startup hiring, and several startups are willing to bet on individuals without extensive experience but with promise of passion and diligence.
  • Find interesting people through LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, social media and other serendipidous mediums and reach out to them personally through email or DMs.
    • Tell them something specific about them that caught your eye and introduce yourself. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to connect and help. Out-of-the-box thinking like this is how you find life-changing mentors, friends and even potential colleagues!

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’» Develop A Demonstrable Body Of Work

While I can’t stress enough the importance of relentlessly taking shots, you still need to cover your bases.

Just like you can’t expect to lose weight if you’re shovelling down a box of muffins every 2 hours, you can’t expect to get a job if you have absolutely no demonstrable value to employers.

I call this your body of work and it’s relatively simple to build as a graduate. Let me show you some ways that helped in the past.

Internships

It should come as no surprise – but if there’s only one thing you could do to build your body of work, let it be an internship.

Another awesome benefit of internships is that if the circumstances are right and you’ve done well, they may very well turn into part-time job opportunities and even roll into full-time jobs after you graduate! This is exactly how things worked out for me. After companies have spent their precious time to train and vet you, it benefits them to keep you around for as long as possible. You on the other hand get to learn new skills and get paid! Who doesn’t love a good old win-win situation?

Why are internships so valuable in the eyes of employers? It’s simple – by completing an internship, you’ve signalled the fact that you have successfully assimilated into a work environment while acquiring real-world technical skills, not the often theoretical and outdated knowledge we’re taught at university. Congrats – you’re now infinitely more valuable in their eyes!

Some fond memories tackling problems at my first internship with SeaLadder

By the way, the company where you choose to intern doesn’t need to be a well-known household brand like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. either. While that would definitely help, the important part is to get any internship. The more, the merrier. Keep your mind open to opportunities at startups, large corporates and everything in between.

When it comes to the argument of paid vs unpaid internships, I would definitely prefer the paid kind. I couldn’t get a paid one the first time around, but that didn’t deter me from doing an unpaid one and learning. Think of the long-term time horizon and focus on learning high-value skills. It may not pay off right away, but it does soon enough. Trust me on this.

Projects

If you’re not able to land internships for any reason, a close second way to build your body of word is to work on useful projects, the keyword here being useful.

All projects are not created equal, and some will do a better job demonstrating your value than others. While these could be your university projects, in most cases you’ll need to pick your projects more deliberately to make them useful.

How do you go about picking a project to work on? Here are some questions I ask myself:

  1. What skills would I need to know to get my first job? – Look at roles advertised in the market that you’d like to land. See what kind of skills you’ll need to demonstrate and match your projects to them.
  2. Will I have something working at the end to demonstrate and talk about? – Showing is better than telling. As much as possible, try to create something people can, feel or play with. It’ll make talking about it more relatable and interesting for everyone involved.
  3. How much effort can I put in to get my project done? – You might want to solo-build the next Airbnb, but you have little time and knowledge like the rest of us mere mortals. Define your project’s scope reasonably – large enough to learn and demonstrate new skills but small enough to complete it in a few weeks or a month.

If you stick to those 3 criteria, you’ll be well on your way to getting the right projects done before hiring season. They’ll set you apart from everyone else applying and it will show.

Get Good Grades (if you can)

While I understand that my opinion on this subject is controversial enough to start the Third World War, hear me out.

I fully agree that good grades in isolation aren’t the best indicators of your value. Anyone with two grey cells to rub together understands that.

But that doesn’t mean good grades indicate nothing. They do indicate something loud and clear to employers – that’s work ethic. The ability to get things done, whether you like to or not. That’s what you’ll be doing every day at work, so it works in their favour whether you like it or not.

When I look back at my degree, it’s easy to think that it was only my persistence with the numbers game and work experience that helped me land my role at Zip, but I know this is not true. My good grades opened doors for me at several points in my job search, what and how you do after entering that door depends on all the other skills I talk about here.

If you’re early in your degree, please take this to heart and attempt to get the best grades you can (while having a life).

If it’s too late for you to change your grades, that’s okay – put all your effort into the other tactics I’ve laid out in this post.

πŸ‘” Acquire Interview Skills

You’ve got the right mindset, strategy and body of work, but need just one more weapon in your arsenal to do serious damage. Interview skills.

That’s right – all those last-minute submissions, cramming for exams and collecting internships and side projects are not enough. Employers want more. Why that’s the case deserves an essay of its own, but in the meantime, you’ll have to make do.

When employers interview you, they’ll test you in several ways to know if you’ll be a good fit. And depending on the company, often, these tests will have nothing to do with the work you’ll be expected to do at the role. Since your experience and university knowledge might not suffice, you’ll have to invest at least some of your time gaining these interview skills. Thankfully once you’ve got the basics down, they’ll be transferrable to other interviews you’ll have down the line.

Let’s take a look at some of the types of interview skills and how you can go about acquiring them.

Data Structures and Algorithms (DSA) Fundamentals

Chances are you studied some data structures and algorithm courses at university. If you did, that’s great! You’re going to have to rely heavily on that knowledge to get past your interview questions for most companies (except startups).

If not, bite the bullet and study these fundamentals. You’re going to need them for your tech career interviews.

Many people complain, saying, “This sucks! You’re never gonna need to inverse a binary tree at work!”.

I agree. But complaining about it won’t get you a job, and neither will it change the industry. So I’d suggest you focus on what you can control.

How do you go about improving with DSA and problem-solving skills?

There’s been an explosion of content on this subject online already, so I won’t touch too much on this. Here are some excellent resources to build up your DSA and problem-solving skills:

  • YouTube – It is full of free content to help you created by experts all over the world. Honestly, you could do all of your prep here nowadays.
  • Data Structures and Algorithms For Big tech interviews – Awesome course which covers the fundamental DSA concepts and techniques to solve interview questions.
  • Grokking The Coding Interview – An excellent course to learn the patterns you’ll need solve a majority of the problems you’ll face.
  • Leetcode – The go-to platform for practicing very challenging coding interview problems.

With enough time, dedication and persistence, you’ll build an incredibly valuable problem-solving skillset that you can use for your technical interviews throughout your career.

Communication Skills

You might be a problem-solving and coding ninja, but great software is not built in isolation. You’ll need to learn how to articulate your thoughts to others effectively if you want to stand a chance in your interviews and later in your career.

I was told hundreds of times at uni about good communication skills, but I didn’t fully understand what they were until I started work, so let’s talk specifics:

  • Smile, make eye contact and be an overall friendly person. Your interviewer wants to hire someone they’d enjoy working with, not a code monkey.
  • Dress very well because you will be judged by your apperance. My rule of thumb is to err on the side of being overdressed. This sends the message that you respect your interviewer’s time and are serious about the opportunity they’ve considered you for.
  • Speak slowly and clearly while giving your answers – there’s no train to catch.
  • Prepare several anecdotes, stories and answers for common interview questions you’ll be expected to answer. Here’s a short list for questions.
  • Always ask clarifiying questions before jumping head-first into problem-solving mode! This shows you’re a critical thinker and have a sharp eye for detail.
  • Learn and use the STAR Technique for behavioural questions in your interviews. Be prepared with answers to common interview questions.
  • Ask your recruiters and interviewers questions at the end of the interview! This is a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm and work ethic to your potential employer, and even learn about their work culture.
  • Practice your communication skills by taking mock interviews with your friends and family. This is an incredibly effective technique to get rid of your interview nerves and instill confidence.

There’s always room for being a better communicator, but take the above tips to heart, and you’ll get 80-90% of what it takes to be in control of your interviews.

πŸŽ‡ Getting Started

Congratulations on reaching the end of this massive article! I know that was a lot of information all at once, so let me break it down into some actionable steps you can start with right now to get one step closer to that grad job:

  • Set up time in your calendar everyday to achieve this goal – preparing, studying, applying and interviewing.
    • If you don’t have a full-time job, your full-time job is getting a job. I suggest a minimum of 2 hours every day. No excuses. Following through on this one tip will get you your goal, I assure you.
  • Brainstorm people who can help refer you in your circle (family, friends and acquaintances) and online. Reach out to them.
  • Try getting an internship at a company to build your body of work (consider startups and unpaid roles as well).
  • If you can’t find an internship, build interesting projects using the power of online tutorials and courses – just as good.
  • Apply to a minimum of 3 (preferably 5) companies everyday. Remember, this is a number’s game. The only way you can win is by taking many shots.
  • Be well-prepared for your interviews, both behavioural and technical. It takes time and effort, not god-given talent and luck.

What are you waiting for? Go forth and conquer! And once you make it to the other side, help others on the journey just like yourself. There’s no feeling like it, trust me.


If you found this advice helpful, or even better, managed to make progress towards your goal, let me know by shooting me a DM on Twitter or through my contact page.

I wish you great luck on your journey towards the audacious goal of building an awesome tech career down under!

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